Jan 09

MICHAEL JACKSON – “One Day In Your Life”

FT + Popular29 comments • 3,698 views

#481, 27th June 1981

For a fortunate few acts – The Beatles, ABBA, Westlife – the UK #1 lists offer a fair representation of a full career arc. For many others the public at least have the decency to pick a highlight. For some, their one or two Number Ones come too early or too late to show an act’s full range. But only in the case of Michael Jackson do British record-buyers simultaneously gift an artist with a large haul of #1s and miss out most of what made him a superstar. If you showed the average pop fan a list of Jackson singles and said “Pick the chart-toppers” I suspect they’d get things spectacularly wrong. There’s one incandescent exception but otherwise “One Day In Your Life” sets a pattern: after a run of superb hits from Off The Wall, Jackson’s first number one here is with a six-year-old ballad cannily resurrected by Motown to front an odds-and-sods cash-in.

Despite all this, “One Day” is rather fine, thanks to a deceptively tremulous vocal from the adolescent Jackson. It’s a shame the arrangers didn’t give the performance a little more space – there’s iron beneath Jackson’s wounded quaver, and he’s quite capable of handling how the song crests without the dubious help provided by banks of Roussos-style strings and irritating drum pans. Much better to have kept the storming bridge, Shangri-Las style, and let Jackson do the heavy lifting elsewhere. So “One Day In Your Life” ends up a badly flawed gem, as frustrating as it is pretty.



  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 15 Jan 2009 #

    Its one of those songs that you realise, when you hear it, that you only really remember parts of. For all that, the bits that are good – chiefly the introduction – do have a sort of heartstopping slowness, like time itself is stopping, that feels authentically shadowy and heartbroken.

  2. 2
    Erithian on 15 Jan 2009 #

    I have to confess that I find Michael Jackson possibly the most over-rated artist in pop history. I also have to confess that I rather like this one. Largely because most of the things that really annoy me about him – the vocal tics, the monstrous ego, the sheer overblown-ness – are absent from this song. It’s simple, it’s sweet and it’s sincere, the voice soars in the right places, and I have a lot of time for it. I may need to don the tin helmet later on for Jacko records, but not just yet.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 15 Jan 2009 #

    This is the kind of music that my eight-year old self found authentically threatening, slow, convulsed with shrill emotion, with little in the way of a child friendly tune.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 15 Jan 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Unsurprisingly, Michael Jackson had better things to do in 1981 than go to Shepherds Bush to promote a six-year old recording. So on the 4th of June, Legs & Co interpreted the song in his abscence.

    Also in the studio that week were; Siouxsie & The Banshees, Kate Robbins & Beyond, Squeeze, Imagination and Phil Collins. The host was Richard Skinner.

  5. 5
    Tom on 15 Jan 2009 #

    I totally don’t even remember it existing – and I was listening to pop at the time (loved loved loved Imagination’s stuff): I just completely tuned it out (whereas “Being With You” I think I just filed under ‘grown-up’). I don’t remember knowing who Michael Jackson was until “The Girl Is Mine”.

  6. 6
    peter goodlaws on 15 Jan 2009 #

    Yes, I can’t for the life of me understand how this got to the top and “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” didn’t. Tom’s quite right about how most people would slip up on a “Guess Jacko’s Number Ones” quiz. I certainly would have never picked this. On the other hand, I can’t agree with Erithian about Jackson being overrated. I think both “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” were magnificent bodies of work. We all know he became a nutjob after this and is now a tragic figure whose best mate is Mickey Mouse but those two albums alone mark him as a leading light in pop. As for ODIYL, again I differ from Erithian. I thought it was way too twee and it’s not surprising to learn that it was recorded some time earlier. I don’t think Rod Temperton would have had anything to do with this.

  7. 7
    wichita lineman on 15 Jan 2009 #

    David Cassidy redux, a beautiful song with a slightly OTT arrangement. Only slightly, mind you. The Midnight Cowboy lazy loneliness of the harmonica is positively complemented by that most unlikely Meditteranean undertow (is it a bouzouki?).

    As for the song… the unexpected climb on “You’ll remember me, somehow” (what a desolately hopeful line) was always a holy shiver moment for me, yearning and gorgeous. I loved this at the time, with a slight sense of embarrassment, and bought it just before a spell in hospital. I remember lying in the hospital bed, gazing at the NME Independent Chart and trying to imagine how great Mattress Of Wire by Aztec Camera must sound. Couldn’t wait to get out and buy it. Of course, it turned out to be nowhere near as good as One Day In Your Life.

    Have to agree with Erithian about the lack of tics – does anybody actually miss them on ODIYL?

  8. 8
    Pete on 15 Jan 2009 #

    Off The Wall may well have been the last genuine pop album my parents bought and was thus spun on and off for about twenty years at home. As such this baffled me a touch, as it wasn’t on Off The Wall and was nowhere near as good as everything on it. Its an okay ballad, but has a sappiness which I was getting to dislike, and lacked all of the lithe dancability of Off The Wall. I can’t say I really like it all that much now.

    If we are building a history of music from the representatives at hand it is a wonder I got through the early 80’s without insisting that
    a) All albums had to be gatefold
    b) And be about Walls.

    That said I loved the gatefold of off the wall, as you got to see Michael’s legs. Such a simple idea, but one which I think gave the album an extra bit of longevity for me.

  9. 9
    Conrad on 15 Jan 2009 #

    This one always makes me thing of Morricone’s score for Once Upon A Time In The West – the harmonica and the chorale effects.

    It’s pleasant enough, but also a little dreary. 5’s about right.

  10. 10
    SteveM on 15 Jan 2009 #

    Despite loving Adam Ant I was still unaware of Jacko at this point and didn’t hear this until many years later. I think my favourite ballad of his is ‘Human Nature’.

  11. 11
    Mark G on 15 Jan 2009 #

    I think MJackson didn’t get to number one because he generally didn’t make himself *that* available for promo.

    His videos up to here were generally filmed with him at a long distance. Maybe his nose really was bugging him at the time.

  12. 12
    LondonLee on 15 Jan 2009 #

    He was such a better singer back then, at least a much more appealing one before all the grunts and squeaks took over. While most singers get better at their craft as they get older Jacko just seemed to regress from an assured and soulful little boy to a herky-jerky robot. Maybe his voice vanished with his nose and all the tics were a form of vocal cosmetic masking.

    This is fluff though, pretty fluff but not exactly “I’ll Be There”

  13. 13
    Tom on 15 Jan 2009 #

    I think the grunts and squeaks and tics play quite an important role in what makes his good later music good, but it’s also true they make his mediocre later music a great deal more irritating. More on them in future entries I guess!

  14. 14
    Malice Cooper on 15 Jan 2009 #

    A refreshing piece of re-issue from the younger artist who I mush prefer to the “shriek freak” of the 80s and 90s. So much around him was hype and all his records started to sound the same after a while.I don’t think I can stomach anything after “Billie Jean” and that was only just about bearable.

    This was cute and was getting towards the end of my 3rd year at school and moving up to a different building 2 miles away which I thought was very sad. We had to take our “options” and decide what to study and what not to study. All I wanted to study at that age was on at 12.45pm every tuesday. After 5,4, and 2 the rundown and then number 1, I would head off to English literature and “study”(I’d hide a radio in my desk with one of those long thin white-wired earpieces going up my sleeve out by my tie and into my right ear, head resting on hand) and take bugger all notice of Mrs Mitchell reading a boring classic to us. I just listened to the new entries and chart climbers until 2 p.m.

  15. 15
    peter goodlaws on 15 Jan 2009 #

    #14 – “Mrs Mitchell?”…Mrs ROSIE Mitchell?…Surely some mistake!!

    Oh and btw, Malice. BUNNY!!!!!!!

  16. 16
    rosie on 15 Jan 2009 #

    Peter, your mask is slipping. Put it back properly like a good lad.

  17. 17
    Matthew K on 16 Jan 2009 #

    #11 – “His videos up to here were generally filmed with him at a long distance. Maybe his nose really was bugging him at the time.”
    It’s also possible that he may have been an UNBELIEVABLE DANCER which is hard to show in close-up.

  18. 18
    will on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Not only Jackson’s first and best Number One but also his ‘Over The Rainbow’. Listening to it, you can’t quite believe this wasn’t a show tune that had already been around for a generation.

    Personally I love that sumptuous, over the top production (those French horns!), and Jackson’s performance has a butter-wouldn’t-melt quality that makes you forget these are actually quite nasty lyrics he’s singing (‘I will stay in your heart/ and when things fall apart/ you’ll remember…’)

    Even in 1981 this seemed like the work of a completely different artist to the freakish post-Off The Wall Jacko. Looking back, it was the last time he actually sounded like a human being.

  19. 19
    Erithian on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Don’t know about “quite nasty lyrics”, Will – when you get to the refrain it’s clear he’s not gloating but offering back-up, saying that when things fall apart “just call my name and I’ll be there”. A line directly lifted from the J5’s “I’ll Be There” in fact. (Not the first time this had happened in the Motown stable – “happiness is just an illusion” being used in both “Reach Out I’ll Be There” (that phrase again) and “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?”)

    Malice #14 – what a great image, them were t’days! “We learned more from a three-minute record baby than we ever leaned in school” (Springsteen, “No Surrender”). Not on-message with educational policy though, Bruce.

  20. 20
    Malice Cooper on 16 Jan 2009 #

    #15 No she was Jill Mitchell and she wore yellow shoes and was always playing with her bra straps, but she was very nice apart from that.

    BUNNY ? Is this the “next line round” ?

    Chas and Dave ?

  21. 21
    lonepilgrim on 16 Jan 2009 #

    I think will is OTM with the ‘Over the rainbow’ comparison at #18 – I can imagine Judy Garland singing this.
    There’s a similar quality in both singers of tantalising flashes of vulnerabilty revealed/concealed behind a layer of steely professionalism – to a point where you question whether the ‘vulnerability’ is the real thing or just part of the act – or whether the singer even knows themself.
    Once MJ lost that sense of vulnerabilty – real or otherwise – he became an animatronic waxwork parody of himself.

  22. 22
    wichita lineman on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Re 19: On J5’s I’ll Be There, it was Berry Gordy’s idea to have Michael throw in “Just look over your shoulder, honey!” as a direct ref to the 4 Tops’ 45.

    And while we’re talking about Motown re-cycling, how about the “Pagliacci” mention on Carolyn Crawford/Truly Smith’s ace My Smile Is Just A Frown, some time before Tears Of A Clown.

    I mean, why waste a guaranteed smash hit reference to an 1892 clown opera?

  23. 23
    peter goodlaws on 17 Jan 2009 #

    # 20 – No, Coop. Remember to always think twice. Do think twice. Do think twice.

  24. 24
    rosie on 18 Jan 2009 #

    No, no. Don’t think twice, it’s all right.

  25. 25
    Brooksie on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Love this one. Loved it then and love it now. Love the harmonica intro, Michael’s genuine fragility, the sense of nostalgia it evokes. Yes, it’s cheesy. But for me this is my favourite Michael Jackson song, and I say that with no shame whatsoever.

  26. 26
    richard thompson on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Around the time of Don’t stop till you get enough Lena Martell was number one, One day in your life used to be the closing song at Solihull ice rink when it was in the charts, did Jacko know it was re-released?

  27. 27
    pink champale on 19 Feb 2010 #

    ha, very glad to see another former (i assume) habitué of solihull ice rink round here. i didn’t know they had a closing song! mind you, the only time i went at night my mate ended up outside getting his head kicked while i was ineffectual and our french exchanges looked on with gallic distaste.

  28. 28
    23 Daves on 20 Feb 2019 #

    Some radio play of this over the weekend prompted me to come here to see what sort of reception it had, and I’m slightly surprised it was given such short shrift. It’s generally a poorly received opinion, but this is probably one of my favourite Michael Jackson singles.

    First and foremost, I’m a bit of a sucker for love songs where the dumped party continues to convince (or, more accurately, delude) his or herself that their partner may change his or her mind. It sums up the temporary madness that accompanies heartbreak for a lot of people, and Jackson’s vocal here is sweet, broken and vulnerable – probably my favourite vocal performance of his on a ballad, actually. He was possibly the right age to do something like this, naive enough to not struggle to convey the sentiments earnestly, but old enough and experienced enough to have developed the talent. No hiccupping or showboating here either. The performance is strong, simple and believable.

    The only thing that really bothers me about the arrangement is the harmonica’s solemn wailing which could be put to equally good use soundtracking one of Compo’s sulks on “Last Of The Summer Wine”. Motown weren’t to know that, obviously…

    Oddly, not long after its spell at number one I have a crystal clear memory of it wafting on the summer breeze from somewhere close to my house. I caught the words “One day in your life, you’ll remember a place” and clearly committed the scene – a suburban C Road, the slight beginnings of sunset in the sky, a Tonibell ice cream van pulled over and waiting for customers – to memory, whether by accident or design. Just over a year later my parents were putting our things in boxes to move to a new area, so it also has an unusual poignancy for me in that respect.

  29. 29
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    I would agree with Conrad’s comment (#9). 5/10 would be my score as well.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page